Defense minister will keep his job

The ruling conservatives were forced yesterday to deny plans to sack Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos, who on Tuesday caused yet another major embarrassment to the eight-month-old government. Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said there was «no reason for Mr Spiliotopoulos to resign.» He also denied speculation that a cabinet reshuffle might be on the cards. On Tuesday, the minister further deflated ruling New Democracy’s bid to have his Socialist predecessors indicted over past arms deals, by contradicting himself on his subsequent handling of one of the purchases in question – of the Russian Tor M1 air defense system. In July, Spiliotopoulos claimed he had reached an agreement with the Russians that would have redressed the damage to Greece’s interests allegedly caused by PASOK in its first negotiation of the contract. On Tuesday, he denied any improved deal had been signed. The government wants the parliamentary committee investigating the Tor M1 deal – as well as the purchase of an army communications system – to conclude its probe by December 17, the eve of the debate on the 2005 budget. Several ND deputies are understood to be deeply annoyed with Spiliotopoulos’s remarks, which have served to deflect attention from PASOK’s alleged mishandling of the two deals. Spiliotopoulos kept his seat following a September military helicopter crash in which 17 people died, and his comments on relations with Turkey have twice landed the government in hot water with the opposition.